A musician who flew wide, but never forgot his nest – Times of India

Chennai News

CHENNAI: For Carnatic music to leave a lasting impression on the listener, a performer needs to have the best of communication skills as well as gnanam (knowledge). K V Narayanasamy (KVN) was one of those rare musicians blessed with both. KVN had immense command over the art form and the exemplary tonal depth and lucidity of his voice made him shine.
Born Ramanarayanan in 1923, KVN held sruthi sudham (uncompromising fidelity to pitch) as the mainstay of his musical life. This is perhaps what elicited this remark from his guru Sangita Kalanidhi Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar — “KVN’s singing is the most truthful (unmayanadhu) of all.”
KVN will also be remembered this centenary year, and forever, with the epithet ‘neraval’ added to his name, thanks to the infinite dimensions he could spontaneously invoke in a single line of a song, replete with ‘bhava’ (emotion), irrespective of the pace at which it was rendered.
As a true disciple of Ariyakudi, KVN paid tribute to his guru not by replicating him, but rather through meaningful self-discovery. In an interview KVN recalls how Mani Iyer would ask him to sing the same song over and over. Every attempt, said KVN, brought some – thing new to the rendition.
He said it also taught him that while the “dos” of a song come slowly with practice, the “don’ts” are what you learn in the first few rounds of repeti – tion. KVN’s grandfather and father were musicians from whom he received his initial training. He was further trained under Sarvasri Palakkadu Mani Iyer, C S Krishna Iyer and noted violinist Papa Venkatramaiah. From 1942, he was placed under gurukula vasam, or tradi – tional residential training, with Ariyakudi.
Several such insights were revealed in an immaculate presentation given by his disciple, Srivatsan, at his centenary tribute at The Music Academy recently. Srivatsan dwelled on the technical and aesthetic facets of KVN’s music. He also quoted the relentless critic B R C Iyengar who had said KVN provided an elevated sense of joy a spiritual experience through his singing. He was endowed with a voice that was open, relaxed and merged with the tambura.
It was hard to emulate, had stability, with no sudden spikes, and never once felt constrained. KVN had mastered the art of seamless breath control with a wellhidden intake of large breaths that were much needed for a sustained voice. Plain notes came as they should — with crystal clarity.
They had their well defined boundaries and arcs and were sung with a keen sense of proportion. Unlike some singers, KVN never held back the identity of a ragam during alapanas (an improvisation that introduces a ragam). Invariably, his opening phrase would be the characteristic moorchana (which gives an idea of the base structure) of the ragam.
His repertoire broke language barriers. Apart from his mother tongue Malayalam, he sang compositions in Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Sanskrit. The hymns of ‘Thiruppavai’, sung even today, though set to tune by Ari – yakudi, were notated by KVN and sent to Swadesamitran magazine for publication.
Likewise, Periasami Thooran’s ‘Muruga Muruga’ in Saveri ragam and ‘Thaye Thripura Sundari’ in Suddha Saveri ragam, were popu – larised by KVN, and so were the songs of Swarna Venkatesa Dikshithar and Ganapathi Sachidanada Swami. KVN often “owned” noted compositions through his powerful performances; ‘Thyagaraja Yoga Vaibhavam’ in Anandha Bhairavi, ‘Sagara Sayana Vibho’ in Bageshri and ‘Devi Brova Samayamidhe’ in Chinthamani were a few such.
One would do well to remember that the actual composers were Dikshithar, MDR and Syama Sastri. “Generations after generations of musicians have created in, sung, and perfected this great art form,” KVN had once said. “A great deal of dedicated creativity and imagination has gone into this process.
If one was to give their recitals an overdose of emotional or mu – sical colour merely for the sake of applause, they would be degrading a stately art for momentary gain.” And the litmus test he prescribed and stated in an interview was this: “With your guru’s vazhi (path) as your basis, consider your own creative input.
Then, before singing anything that comes forth, pause and ask yourself – does this adhere to sampradaya (tradition)? Does it reflect truth?” Less is often more, he said, and the audience would always be longing for more concert time from him. KVN would constantly engage with the audience during his concerts and captured their awe with the right mix of composers, talams and contrasting tempos.
Even for a ragam, tanam, pallavi, his raga alapanas could last for a maximum of 10 minutes, just like his guru. KVN’s daughter Anuradha, a seasoned musician, recalls how her fa – ther detested lobbying. Commerce and art should never mix, he said. He also believed that a musician should either take cognizance of criticism if he/she thought it was appropriate, or fully leave it behind.
To him, giving devotion and time to the art form was paramount. Anuradha could sing when she was two and a half years old, but had to wait until she turned 18, to give her debut performance. This was probably aligned with his principle that one had to understand an art form fully, with dedicated practice, before jumping to questions. The answers always came with time and patience, he believed.
(The writer is a music reviewer)

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